Pesto Pasta Salad is light, fresh, and chocked-full of amazing flavor. It’s so simple to make that it’s a MUST-HAVE for any potluck or picnic!
If you’re anything like me, you’re trying to hold onto summer for dear life – I just can’t let go of beach days, basking in the sun, and cookouts. This cold pesto pasta salad recipe is not only allowing me to pretend fall isn’t around the corner, but it making me forget other seasons even exist! The fresh ingredients mixed with pasta (my favorite food group next to chocolate…) make for a perfect side dish. Now, if you’re longing for cooler weather and want a WARM pasta salad you have to check out this Warm Lemon Broccoli Pasta Salad – it’s to die for!
PESTO PASTA SALAD
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With my deep Italian roots, it’s easy to believe that pasta is one of my family’s main food groups (yes, yes, I know it’s not technically a food group – who do I have to talk to to make that a thing?!) But with these warm summer days, I really don’t love the idea of spending my entire day sweating over the hot oven cooking up my mom’s lasagna. To be honest, most of our menu in the summer consists of food cooked on the grill and some kind of cold salad. Among our favorites – Greek Pasta Salad, Three Cheese Ranch Pasta Salad … and lately, this Pesto Pasta Salad!
What I love most about this easy pasta salad is how easily you can adjust it to fit your own tastes or the tastes of your family and guests! You’re not a big olive lover? Forget about them! Do you have extra grape tomatoes lying around? Throw them in! This dish is so versatile that it really is impossible to mess up.
Pesto Pasta Salad Ingredients
For the homemade pesto you’ll need:
(you can also use store-bought…no shame. That stuff is equally delicious)
- Fresh Basil
- Fresh Parsley
- Lemon Juice
- Salt & pepper
- Pine Nuts
- Olive Oil
- Parmesan Cheese
For the salad you’ll need:
- Rotini pasta (or other short pasta)
- Black olives
- Roasted peppers
- Crumbled feta cheese
- Cherry Tomatoes
Some of these ingredients are a bit more unique than what you might typically keep in your pantry – as I said before, this recipe is VERY forgiving. You can substitute to fit your tastes, your budget, or your desire to avoid the grocery store at all costs. Don’t want to splurge on pine nuts? Try walnuts instead! I often make my pesto with walnuts because it’s way more likely that I have some walnuts lying around (for my favorite walnut brownies!) than pine nuts.
How to Make Pesto Pasta Salad
- You’re going to want to start by cooking your pasta to al dente in salted water. The reason you want to start with this and not necessarily multi-task is because the pasta needs some time to cool before you mix the remaining ingredients in. If you’re short on time however, feel free to rinse your cooked pasta with some cool water to speed up the process!
- Next, you’re going to make your pesto (or spoon it out of the jar and into a bowl and pretend you made it yourself…). Put the basil, parsley, garlic, lemon juice, salt, pepper, and pine nuts into your food processor and blend until smooth. With your food processor’s motor still running, slowly add in the olive oil until it becomes a paste. Next, add in your Parmesan and slightly mix. You can add in some salt and pepper to taste at this time.
- Now it’s assembly time! Put your cooled pasta, peppers, olives, and feta cheese in a large bowl. Add in a few spoonfuls of pesto at a time and mix until it’s dispersed and tastes like you want it to. I like to take a few taste tests as I’m adding in the pesto – you can go from not enough pesto to wayyyyy too much very quickly!
One thing that makes this such an easy pasta salad is that you can assemble it right in your serving bowl! I love that I can go from mixing it all together to putting it on the table in a matter of minutes!
What to put in Pesto Pasta Salad
This Italian pasta salad is full of some of my favorite ingredients – pasta, pesto, feta cheese, and black olives! Serious yum factor! Depending on what we have on hand, we use either roasted red peppers or grape tomatoes. They are both equally delicious.
Please note, that depending on your family’s tastes you may not want to use all of the pesto – but if you like a saucy pasta salad, you may like it with the full amount. Feel free to adjust it to your tastes! If you prefer, you can use purchased pesto in place of the homemade pesto sauce – just adjust it according to your family’s tastes too! We have also used mozzarella in place of the feta cheese with equally delicious results! You just can’t go wrong with this pasta salad with pesto!
Try these other yummy pesto recipes!
- Creamy Skillet Pesto Chicken
- Pesto Pizza
- Cheesy Pesto Stuffed Tomatoes
- Italian Pesto Pasta Salad
- Grilled Pesto Chicken Sandwich
- Basil Pesto Hummus
- More SIDE DISH recipes…
Tools used to make Pesto Pasta Salad
Food Processor: I swear I use this thing on a DAILY basis! From making pesto, to sauces, to crusts, this is one of my most versatile kitchen appliances!
Mixing Bowls: I love these nesting mixing bowls and use them for everything from mixing, to storing, to serving!
*This post originally posted on 07/06/2015
For the pesto:
- Cook pasta according to package directions, cooking until al dente. Drain the pasta and rinse with cold water. Set aside.
- To make the pesto: In a food processor puree basil, parsley, garlic, lemon juice, salt, pepper and pine nuts until smooth. With the motor running, add olive oil and process until a thick paste forms. Add Parmesan and pulse twice. Season with more salt and pepper, if desired.
- Place the pasta, black olives, roasted red peppers (or tomatoes) and feta cheese in a large bowl. Mix to combine. Add pesto in increments, stirring between each addition until it suits your family's tastes. If applicable, reserve the remaining pesto for another use.
- Serve pasta salad immediately or cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until serving time.